Eye-gouging (rugby union)

Eye-gouging is a serious offence in rugby union where a player uses hands or fingers to inflict pain in an opponent's eyes. The game's laws refer to it as "contact with eyes or the eye area of an opponent" but such incidents are usually referred to as "eye-gouging" among players and in the media.[1]



The laws of rugby union define foul play as: "Anything a player does within the playing enclosure that is against the letter and spirit of the Laws of the Game. It includes obstruction, unfair play, repeated infringements, dangerous play and misconduct which is prejudicial to the Game". Specifically, they state that "A player must not do anything that is dangerous to the opponent".[2]

International Rugby Board Regulations provide for punishment for contact with eyes or the eye area of an opponent.[3]

Although this is usually called "eye-gouging" by the media, fans and players, the term "gouging" is not used in the IRB's laws or regulations, which do list degrees of gravity of the offence. The IRB themselves have used the term in a 2009 statement: "The IRB are firmly of the view there is no place in rugby for illegal or foul play and the act of eye-gouging is particularly heinous".[4]

Scales of the offence

Following two high-profile test match incidents, involving Schalk Burger and Sergio Parisse, during the same week in June 2009, the IRB stated that it would review the sanction structure for this type of offence "in order to send out the strongest possible message that such acts will not be tolerated".[4]

The regulations provide a scale of seriousness:[3]

  • Lower end: up to 12-week ban.
  • Mid range: up to 18-week ban.
  • Top end: greater than 24-week ban.

The maximum sanction is a 156-week (3 year) ban.


Eye-gouging in Rugby Union is a relatively modern development in the British Isles and Northern Hemisphere.[citation needed] Punishments for eye gouging in the Northern Hemisphere are seen by some journalists as being harsher than for similar offenses seen in Southern Hemisphere countries.[5][6] South African national coach, Peter De Villiers stated he did not believe that an incident for which Schalk Burger was yellow carded merited any punishment.[7] In 1992, Richard Loe made contact with Greg Coopers eyes in the National Provincial Championship.[8] The event took the New Zealand Rugby Union's disciplinary committee nine hours to come up with a punishment.[8] According to John Daniell, a New Zealand lock who played for nearly a decade in France, eye gouging is fairly common and considered "a way of life" in French rugby, where it is known as "la fourchette".[9]

Punishment for eye-gouging has been subject to debate depending on interpretation.[10]


Clarence Harding after a severe eye gouge

As well as many cases involving professional rugby union, the case of Clarence Harding, an amateur player, has received considerable coverage due to the extreme damage caused to his eye.[11][12][13] Harding was left without sight in his right eye and can no longer play rugby, and the injury has affected his livelihood and has since had the eye removed due to the pain.[14] Although Matt Iles, the player alleged to have injured Harding, was found not guilty by the RFU, who could not determine which player was responsible,[15] Maidstone RFC were fined £2,000 and deducted 50 points after being found "guilty of conduct prejudicial to the interests of the game".[16]

On 2 October 2010, Gavin Quinnell suffered an eye injury during a game between Llanelli and Cross Keys, from which he lost the sight in his left eye.[17] The incident was under investigation by the Welsh Rugby Union and Gwent Police, with the police arresting the perpetrator. However, the Crown Prosecution Service advised against prosecution, leading to the dropping of criminal charges, and the WRU eventually dropped its citing complaint, to the self-described shock of the Quinnell family, one of the most prominent in Welsh rugby.[18]

High-profile cases

This is a list of cases where eye-gouging has happened at top level or international rugby union matches. It is shown in chronological order; international matches are highlighted. Players banned for contact with eyes or the eye area of an opponent as well as eye-gouging are included.

Offence date Offender Victim Length of ban
For Against
1992 New Zealand Loe, RichardRichard Loe[19] New Zealand Greg Cooper[19] 26 Waikato Otago
1997 New Zealand Flavell, TroyTroy Flavell[19] New Zealand Steve Sinkinson[19] 3 North Harbour Wellington
1999-11-26 France Richard Nones[20] Wales Sven Cronk[20] 104 (2 years) Colomiers Pontypridd
2003-08-02 South Africa Botha, BakkiesBakkies Botha[21] Australia Cannon, BrendanBrendan Cannon[21] 8  South Africa  Australia
2003-10-26 Argentina Grau, RobertoRoberto Grau[22] Ireland Wood, KeithKeith Wood[22] 9  Argentina  Ireland
2003-10-26 Argentina Reggiardo, MauricioMauricio Reggiardo[22] Ireland Corrigan, ReggieReggie Corrigan[22] 6  Argentina  Ireland
2007-01-20 France Daniel Larrechea[23] 6 Sale Sharks Ospreys
2007-04-20 England Hartley, DylanDylan Hartley[24] England Haskell, JamesJames Haskell and Ireland Johnny O'Connor[25] 26 Northampton Saints London Wasps
2008-02-23 Italy Bergamasco, MauroMauro Bergamasco[26] Wales Byrne, LeeLee Byrne[26] 13  Italy  Wales
2008-03-15 Fiji Rabeni, SeruSeru Rabeni[27] England Kyriacou, AndyAndy Kyriacou[27] 14 Leicester Tigers Saracens
2008-07-12 South Africa Du Plessis, BismarckBismarck du Plessis[28] New Zealand Thomson, AdamAdam Thomson[28] 3  South Africa  New Zealand
2008-09-20 Ireland Best, NeilNeil Best[29] England Haskell, JamesJames Haskell[29] 18 Northampton Saints London Wasps
2008-10-18 Romania Tincu, MariusMarius Tincu[30] Wales James, PaulPaul James[30] 18 Perpignan Ospreys
2009-01-24 England Corry, MartinMartin Corry[31] Wales Hibbard, RichardRichard Hibbard[31] 6 Leicester Tigers Ospreys
2009-04-18 France Azam, OlivierOlivier Azam[32] Wales Roberts, JamieJamie Roberts[32] 9 Gloucester Cardiff Blues
2009-05-02 Ireland Quinlan, AlanAlan Quinlan[33] Ireland Cullen, LeoLeo Cullen[24] 12 Munster Leinster
2009-06-26 Italy Parisse, SergioSergio Parisse[34] New Zealand Ross, IsaacIsaac Ross[34] 8  Italy  New Zealand
2009-06-27 South Africa Burger, SchalkSchalk Burger[35] Ireland Fitzgerald, LukeLuke Fitzgerald[24] 8  South Africa British and Irish Lions
2009-10-09 Ireland Jennings, ShaneShane Jennings[36] England Kennedy, NickNick Kennedy 12 Leinster London Irish
2009-12-12 France Dupuy, JulienJulien Dupuy[37] Ireland Ferris, StephenStephen Ferris[37] 24 Stade Français Ulster
2009-12-12 France Attoub, DavidDavid Attoub[38] Ireland Ferris, StephenStephen Ferris[38] 70 Stade Français Ulster
2010-08-28 Argentina Leguizamón, Juan ManuelJuan Manuel Leguizamón[39] France Bouilhou, JeanJean Bouilhou[39] 12 Stade Français Toulouse
2010-12-19 Wales Rees, RichieRichie Rees[40] England Hartley, DylanDylan Hartley[40] 12 Cardiff Blues Northampton Saints
2011-04-02 England Cueto, MarkMark Cueto[41] England Day, ChristianChristian Day[41] 9a Sale Sharks Northampton Saints
2011-10-02 Italy Ghiraldini, LeonardoLeonardo Ghiraldini[42] Ireland Healy, CianCian Healy[42] 15  Italy  Ireland


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  2. ^ "Laws of the Game Rugby Union 2010, Law 10.4". International Rugby Board. http://www.irblaws.com/EN/laws/3/10/95/method-of-playing-the-match/foul-play/dangerous-play-and-misconduct/#clause_95. Retrieved 2010-04-29. 
  3. ^ a b "REGULATION 17. ILLEGAL AND/OR FOUL PLAY AND MISCONDUCT". International Rugby Board. http://www.irb.com/mm/document/lawsregs/0/regulation17090730_8711.pdf. Retrieved 2010-04-29. 
  4. ^ a b Baldock, Andrew (2 July 2009). "IRB review signals intent to get tough on gouging". The Scotsman. http://sport.scotsman.com/rugby/IRB-review-signals-intent-to.5421507.jp. 
  5. ^ http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/rugby_union/8122733.stm
  6. ^ http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2009/may/04/alan-quinlan-gouging-british-lions
  7. ^ http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/rugby_union/8122733.stm
  8. ^ a b "Loe banned for gouging". The Independent. 1992-10-09. http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/rugby-union-loe-banned-for-gouging-1556429.html. Retrieved 2011-08-08. 
  9. ^ Gallagher, Brendan (2009-03-05). "Eye-gouging just a way of life in French rugby". Telegraph. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/rugbyunion/international/france/4945001/Eye-gouging-just-a-way-of-life-in-French-rugby.html. Retrieved 2011-08-08. 
  10. ^ Bills, Peter (2011-04-19). "Varying punishments for eye-gouging are baffling". The Independent. http://www.independent.co.uk/sport/rugby/rugby-union/news-comment/peter-bills-varying-punishments-for-eyegouging-are-baffling-2269508.html. Retrieved 2011-08-08. 
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  14. ^ "Maidstone RFC 'tarnished' by RFU eye gouging ruling". BBC.co.uk. 10 April 2011. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-kent-13029096. Retrieved 12 April 2011. 
  15. ^ "Disappointment as Kent rugby player cleared of gouging". BBC.co.uk. 24 November 2010. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-kent-11827032. Retrieved 24 November 2010. 
  16. ^ "Maidstone RFC fined over eye gouging". BBC.co.uk. 13 January 2011. http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-kent-12179402. Retrieved 13 January 2011. 
  17. ^ "Gavin Quinnell loses sight in his left eye". BBC.co.uk. 7 October 2010. http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/rugby_union/welsh/9056033.stm. Retrieved 11 October 2010. 
  18. ^ "Quinnell family's shock over sight loss ruling". BBC Sport. 4 April 2011. http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/rugby_union/welsh/12964924.stm. Retrieved 6 April 2011. 
  19. ^ a b c d Paul, Gregor (2006-04-16). "Infamous acts of rugby violence". NZ Herald. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/rugby/news/article.cfm?c_id=80&objectid=10377598. Retrieved 2009-06-29. 
  20. ^ a b "Nones' Colomiers teammates air their support". ESPN Scrum. 1999-12-11. http://www.espnscrum.com/scrum/rugby/story/29377.html. Retrieved 2009-06-29. 
  21. ^ a b "Springbok pair banned". BBC News. 2003-08-03. http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/rugby_union/international/3120725.stm. 
  22. ^ a b c d Walsh, David (2008-12-28). "Return of the gouge". The Times (London). http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/rugby_union/article5404412.ece. 
  23. ^ "Larrechea suspended for six weeks". BBC Sport. 2007-02-08. http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/rugby_union/my_club/sale/6295329.stm. Retrieved 2010-11-12. 
  24. ^ a b c Mairs, Gavin (2009-06-28). "Lions 2009: Eye-gouging still blights the game despite hefty suspensions". Telegraph.co.uk (London). http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/rugbyunion/international/britishandirishlionsrugby/5677012/Lions-2009-Eye-gouging-still-blights-the-game-despite-hefty-suspensions.html. Retrieved 2009-06-29. 
  25. ^ "Dylan Hartley's wind-up fear". London Evening Standard. 2009-06-12. http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard-sport/article-23706921-dylan-hartleys-wind-up-fear.do. Retrieved 2010-11-21. 
  26. ^ a b "Bergamasco sorry for Byrne gouge". BBC Sport. 2008-03-01. http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/rugby_union/welsh/7263543.stm. Retrieved 2009-06-29. 
  27. ^ a b "Rabeni loses eye-gouging appeal". BBC Sport. 2008-04-10. http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/rugby_union/my_club/leicester/7325218.stm. Retrieved 2009-06-29. 
  28. ^ a b "Du Plessis hit by three-week ban". BBC Sport. 2008-07-13. http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/rugby_union/7503832.stm. Retrieved 2010-11-12. 
  29. ^ a b "Neil Best banned for 18 weeks after 'eye-gouging' James Haskell". London: timesonline.co.uk. 1 October 2008. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/rugby_union/article4859533.ece. 
  30. ^ a b Rees, Paul (2009-01-29). "Tincu a suitable case to be rugby's version of Bosman". London: Guardian.co.uk. http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/blog/2009/jan/29/paul-rees-marius-tincu-gouging. Retrieved 2009-06-29. 
  31. ^ a b "Corry handed six-week suspension". BBC Sport. 2009-02-13. http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/rugby_union/my_club/leicester/7852554.stm. Retrieved 2010-04-29. 
  32. ^ a b "Azam guilty of eye 'gouging'". Telegraph.co.uk. 2009-05-08. http://www.skysports.com/story/0,19528,12549_5297799,00.html. Retrieved 2009-06-29. 
  33. ^ Cleary, Mick (2009-05-13). "Alan Quinlan to miss Lions tour after 12-week ban for eye gouging". Telegraph.co.uk (London). http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/rugbyunion/international/britishandirishlionsrugby/5320189/Alan-Quinlan-to-miss-Lions-tour-after-12-week-ban-for-eye-gouging.html. Retrieved 2009-06-29. 
  34. ^ a b "Italy captain suspended for eye gouging". Stuff.co.nz. 2009-06-28. http://www.stuff.co.nz/sport/rugby/international/2547003/Italy-captain-suspended-for-eye-gouging. Retrieved 2009-06-29. 
  35. ^ "Burger: I'm not a thug". sport24.co.za. 2 July 2009. http://www.sport24.co.za/Content/Rugby/LionsinSA/954/54f9005ce7174ea88de932653e958622/02-07-2009%2005-07/Burger_Im_not_a_thug. 
  36. ^ "Leinster's Shane Jennings gets 12-week ban for eye-gouging England ace Nick Kennedy". London: dailymail.co.uk. 14 October 2009. http://www.dailymail.co.uk/sport/rugbyunion/article-1220403/Leinsters-Shane-Jennings-gets-12-week-ban-eye-gouging-England-ace-Nick-Kennedy.html. 
  37. ^ a b Rees, Paul (2009-12-18). "Julien Dupuy gets six-month ban for eye-gouging". Guardian.co.uk. http://www.guardian.co.uk/sport/2009/dec/18/julien-dupuy-six-month-ban. Retrieved 2010-11-21. 
  38. ^ a b "Stade Francais prop David Attoub banned for 70 weeks". BBC Sport. 19 January 2010. http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport1/hi/rugby_union/irish/8462677.stm. Retrieved 19 January 2010. 
  39. ^ a b "Leguizamon landed with 80-day ban". ESPN Scrum. 2010-09-16. http://www.espnscrum.com/francetop14-2010-11/rugby/story/123336.html. Retrieved 2010-11-12. 
  40. ^ a b "Ban rules Wales' Richie Rees out of Six Nations". BBC Sport. 2011-01-06. http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/rugby_union/my_club/cardiff_blues/9330669.stm. Retrieved 2011-01-06. 
  41. ^ a b "England & Sale winger Mark Cueto given nine-week ban". BBC Sport. 2011-04-11. http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/rugby_union/9448900.stm. Retrieved 2011-04-12. 
  42. ^ a b "Rugby World Cup 2011: Ghiraldini banned for eye gouging". BBC Sport. 2011-10-04. http://news.bbc.co.uk/sport2/hi/rugby_union/15166579.stm. Retrieved 2011-10-04. 

^ Note a: Prior to the announcement of the RFU's nine-week ban on 11 April 2011, Cueto had received a six-week ban from his club. The bans ultimately ran concurrently.

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